Coal plant supporters are urging passage of ‘comprehensive energy bill’

? As a showdown over proposed coal plants approaches, the project’s supporters are urging Kansans to tell legislators to vote for the “comprehensive energy bill.”

A statewide radio advertisement by Americans for Prosperity criticizes the “wasteful spending spree” in Washington, D.C., and then says that the Kansas Legislature is working on an energy bill that is “a true economic stimulus package that bolsters our energy infrastructure through private investment, not taxpayer dollars.”

House Bill 2014, which is expected to be voted on this week, would allow the construction of two 700-megawatt coal-burning electric power plants in southwestern Kansas. Supporters say the plants would be among the cleanest coal-fired units in the country and would produce needed jobs and development in the region.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and a host of environmental groups oppose the plants, citing the project’s annual emission of 11 million tons of climate-changing carbon dioxide, and the fact that 85 percent of the power is destined for out-of-state customers. Sebelius has said Kansas should focus on wind energy and predicted there soon will be federal restrictions on CO2.

Last year, Kansas lawmakers approved three bills to build the plants, but fell several votes short in the House of the two-thirds majority needed to override Sebelius’ vetoes.

This time, supporters of the project say they will have enough votes to override a veto.

In the new legislation, they have married the coal plants to so-called green initiatives.

But environmental groups say those green initiatives have been watered down to the point that they are ineffective.

Americans for Prosperity has become increasingly active in elections and issue advocacy. The nonprofit organization was founded by billionaire David Koch, executive vice president and a board director for Koch Industries, based in Wichita. Koch was the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president of the United States in 1980 and is a well-known backer of anti-tax efforts.

The coal plants vote is further clouded by the nomination of Sebelius by President Barack Obama to lead the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius could be confirmed to the job soon, leaving the veto to Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, who some have said would have more difficulty facing down an override attempt.

But in a recent comment, Sebelius disputed that notion, “I don’t think so. This is the area where he has really been the state expert,” adding, “I won’t be far away.”